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    Siliguri: the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ set to widen

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    While mapping the retail real estate development in the eastern part of the country, Siliguri, the second largest city in West Bengal and the main commercial city of North Bengal, comes up as an obvious choice of location in the region. The picturesque town is the transit point for the road, railways and air traffic to neighbouring tourist destinations that include Darjeeling, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and also the entire Dooars range of the Himalayas.

    The advantage
    Other than being a tourist destination in itself, Siliguri is also a very important transit point for North Bengal and the neighbouring countries. For ages now Siliguri has also been a popular shopping destination for a huge number of tourists coming to this region every year.

    Apart from for an increasing number of tourists, the town is also the base for a huge population of fashion savvy youngsters with increasing disposable income these days. No wonder that the city received due attention from modern retail formats and real estate majors in recent years, with a number of malls coming up to cash in on the city’s increasingly aspirational consumer base.

    Prime locations

    Siliguri’s retail development is concentrated around the two major stretches — Hill Cart Road and Sevoke Road. The former has been a traditional retail market for consumer durables as well as for fashion apparel and jewellery for decades and is considered as the high street of Siliguri. The stretch also reflects an impressive modern retail presence with names such as Levi’s, Adidas, Hoffmen, Pantaloons, and Liberty in attendance.

    Another fast growing high street in Siliguri is Sevoke Road, frequented by the generation-next shoppers. Apart from various standalone retailers, Sevoke Road has the city’s first mall,

    To cater to the increasing number of shoppers visiting Sevoke Road, real estate developers have rolled out major plans for the location.

    The Cosmos, spread over 3.5 lakh square feet and occupied mostly by the brands. The mall houses Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, eZone and Collection-i apart from brands like Moustache, Adidas, Reebok and . To complete the city’s leisure and entertainment experience, the mall also has a full-fledged gaming zone, a food court, speciality restaurants and an upmarket salon.

    Scaling upward

    To cater to the increasing number of shoppers visiting Sevoke Road, real estate developers have rolled out major plans for the location. Siliguri based developer Himalayan Builders, MLA group is all set to come up with an ambitious project — MLA Acropolis Mall — on Sevoke Road. The target catchment of the mall would include the nearby City Plaza market, the newly developed apartments, Club Town residency, Don Bosco School and St. Michael School. With 1,83,000 square feet of gross leasable area, the mall spreads over eight floors including a basement and ground floor. A multiplex has also been proposed. According to , director, MLA group, the mall’s location will help in catering to a population of around 20 lakhs residing in the surrounding catchments and also a growing floating population from outside the town.

    Proceed with caution

    However, the scenario is not all bright as the continuing correction in retail real estate and fears of oversupply are compelling many developers to convert previously-announced retail-led projects into commercial office spaces. One of the town’s proposed malls, Orbit, has been facing challenges in drawing occupiers. As the mall is located at a distant part of Sevoke Road, which circles the periphery of the city area, the location is not turning out to be very attractive for retailers.

    Already, too many retail real estate developments in less than a kilometre of distance on an average are resulting in retailers stretching themselves too thin. “The city has a lot of potential but has become somewhat crowded. While it should ideally have two malls, there are at least three to four additional projects coming up. This has created a state of surplus supply in the region, which is not good either for the retailers or the developers,” says Mayank Saksena, executive director, Jones Lang La Salle Meghraj.

    Curving the roadmap

    In spite of the dampeners, the city’s retail development is still on in full swing with bigger developers like Ambuja Realty entering the scene. The developer is coming up with a six lakh square feet mall, Siliguri City Centre, in the city’s newly developed township area, Uttarayan. “The new township will change the city’s landscape and the mall, which is a part of the township, is expected to be the most talked-about shopping centre of Siliguri offering a proper mall experience including a multiplex,” says Mukesh Kumar Sharma, manager — marketing, Ambuja Realty.

    Though the town got its first mall in 2008, it is yet to offer a complete modern shopping centre experience to its inhabitants. Being positioned as the first operational mall in the city, Cosmos is also trying to rise above its limitations in areas like ample parking space, a true mix of ambience, a multiplex and an evolved concept of a food court to generate optimum footfalls.

    On the other hand, with the slowdown hitting the real estate business, the opening of proposed malls like Orbit and Acropolis are expected to be delayed from their earlier scheduled launch dates. It appears that until Siliguri opens its doors to City Centre, in 2010, the mega mall experience still remains a dream unfulfilled for its residents

    By Piasi Sinha